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What Would Garvey Do? An Open Letter to Bernie Sanders

Dear Bernie,

I want to start off by telling you how heartening it was to read your remarks in John Nichols Nation magazine tribute to Fighting Bob Fest founder Ed Garvey on the occasion of Garvey’s passing in February of 2017. You said he was one of the smartest, funniest and most decent people you’ve ever known,and I know a whole bunch of Wisconsinites from every corner of the state felt the same way. He was one of a kind and we all miss him dearly.

Some of my fondest memories of Ed stem from listening to his weekly show on WOJB Woodland Community Radio, a 100,000 watt station broadcasting from the Lac Courte Oreille Reservation in far northern Wisconsin, where I live. Every Wednesday morning for half an hour, from 2005-2015, Garvey would hold forth across the entire region with his signature brand of keen political analysis,  lightning wit, gleeful irreverence , and his obviously big hearted passion for a better world. He made us all want a better world too, and I wish I had a dollar bill for every time I heard him use the old Irish quip, “ is this a private fight or can anyone join? “

But my absolutely fondest memory of Ed was from my first meeting with him in 2009 after I became Wisconsin’s volunteer coordinator for Progressive Democrats of America. I traveled down to Madison to “Fighting Bob World Headquarters“ as he called it, and mostly listened as he gave me an accelerated, first class, and hilarity/profanity laden graduate course in all things progressive. One of the stories he told that day has stuck with me over the years and illustrates perfectly the kind of man Ed Garvey was.

In the summer of 2007, Garvey had invited prominent peace activist Cindy Sheehan and a progressive Wisconsin congressman to both speak at Fighting Bob Fest. This was after the Democrats took back the House of Representatives in 2006 and Nancy Pelosi had become Speaker. Sheehan, who lost her son Casey during the War in Iraq, was furious at what she saw as the Democrats betrayal of the anti-war movement that helped them win back the House and had announced her intention to primary Pelosi in California’s 12thcongressional district. This, apparently, didn’t sit very well with lots of Democrats.

So one morning Garvey gets a phone call from the Wisconsin Dem Rep who tells Garvey that they can’t appear on the same stage with Cindy Sheehan.

“ Why not” , says Garvey. “

“Because she’s running against my quarterback “ says the Rep.

Without missing a beat Garvey says, “ Oh my God she’s running against Bret Favre! “ the legendary Packers QB.

The Rep, flustered with Garvey’s response, blusters “ No…..  you know she’s  running against Nancy Pelosi! “and then goes on to say they won’t be coming if Cindy Sheehan is going to be on the stage.

“ Well “ says Garvey “ We’ll miss you “.

The Rep didn’t show, Sheehan did, and I left Garvey’s office that day with a better understanding of what the word “ integrity” really means.

Speaking of Fighting Bob Fest, it was there that Garvey first introduced Wisconsinites to, as Paul Ryan might say “ a guy named Bernie Sanders “. If I remember correctly, one of your first big 2015 presidential campaign rallies was in Madison and Garvey was in the front row with his wife Betty.  Garvey also introduced us to a host of other national, regional and statewide progressive voices including political reform activist Mike McCabe, who happens to be running for Governor of Wisconsin. McCabe is also well known to northern Wisconsin progressives, having done dozens of interviews over the years on WOJB, sometimes in tandem with Ed and who, like Ed 20 years ago, is running for Governor with the issue of campaign finance reform at the top of his priority list. I’d hazard a guess that no one has spoken more times at Fighting Bob Fest than Mike McCabe, with the possible exception of Jim Hightower.

And like you, McCabe is an Independent running as a democrat. Like you, he’s taken some heat from democrats because of it. His campaign slogan “ Principle Over Party “ doesn’t really sit very well with a lot of democrats, as you might guess. The rest of McCabe’s platform reads like a progressive populist wish list including Badgercare for All, 100% renewable energy, legalizing marijuana, ending mass incarceration, a $15 an hour minimum wage/ universal basic income, etc, progressive etc.

McCabe has logged over 85,000 miles traveling Wisconsin with a message of restoring our progressive tradition. During that time he’s spoken to thousands of people, drawn supporters of every political stripe, has often driven the political conversation in a progressive direction, and managed to climb his way into a tie for second in the most watched political survey in Wisconsin, the Marquette University Law School Poll. He’s done that by rekindling a determination in regular people that government really ought to be for all of us instead of just billionaires. No other gubernatorial candidate in Wisconsin wants to upend more the business as usual, dollar driven bullshit, from both major parties, that passes for governance down in Madison. He’s a lot like Garvey, in some ways. In some ways he’s a lot like you. His vision is downright, well…….. revolutionary.

All of this brings me, finally, to my point, Senator Sanders. If you’re serious about starting a political revolution in this country there’s no truer path to it in Wisconsin than giving your unqualified endorsement to Mike McCabe as our next Governor. I think he’s earned it, so do a lot of folks, and I know we all deserve the Wisconsin he envisions.

On a final note, I’m sure you get requests for endorsements all the time, and I’m equally sure that trying to decide who to endorse must be difficult. I’m not in any position to understand all the factors to be weighed, what the political ramifications might be, or how you should use your considerable influence toward the most productive ends. But I can tell you this.

When most progressives in Wisconsin, especially north woods progressives, ask themselves “ what would Garvey do ? “ regarding  who he’d be supporting in the upcoming Democratic primary for Governor, there’s no doubt in our minds what the answer would be. Ed Garvey would endorse Mike McCabe.

Wishing you all the best,

Steve Carlson is a former community/union/political organizer who lives in northern Wisconsin.

 

 

 

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